More than 20 hours and 7,000 miles after taking off from the Middle East, one of the last large contingents of soldiers from Fort Gordon's 67th Signal Battalion arrived home Tuesday to the raucous cheers of friends and family.
Col. Nathaniel Smith, the head of the 93rd Signal Brigade, under which the 67th falls, kept his remarks short, as Tuesday's brief ceremony at Gym 3 marked the first time many soldiers saw their loved ones in a very long time.
"The most important thing now is to be with your families and friends," Col. Smith said. "We'll get a chance to talk more in the integration process."
The more than 400 soldiers of the battalion, which spent more than a year in Iraq, have come home in waves over the past few days.
Its sister battalion, the 63rd, swapped out for the 67th last month for its second deployment during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Capt. Mary Chantre held on to her 5-year-old daughter, Sondria Peebles, after soldiers were dismissed.
"It feels good to be home, of course," she said. "(The separation) definitely makes the heart grow fonder."
Her mother, Saundria Miller, who has been taking care of Sondria since the captain's deployment, said she was thrilled the battalion arrived home safe.
"We're so thankful to God that she's safe," she said.
There also was thanksgiving for Nicole Presby and her 3-year-old daughter, Alison, who welcomed Maj. Timothy Presby home.
"This is probably the best day of our lives," Mrs. Presby said.
Mrs. Presby and her daughter, clad in orange T-shirts with the wig-wag flag emblem of the Signal Corps and "I Love My Soldier" emblazoned on them, hugged Maj. Presby as others rushed to reunite with loved ones.
Now that they're together again, what will they do? They're going to Disney World. Seriously, Mrs. Presby said.
"We need time to be a family again," she said.
An official "welcome home" ceremony for the 67th Signal Battalion is scheduled for Feb. 11.
Reach Jeremy Craig at (706) 823-3409 or email@example.com.